Guild’s jumbo 12s, like the F-412 (maple back and sides) and F-512 (rosewood back and sides), made quite an impression in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now, after a few years of settling in and delivering new US-made versions of many of its desirable 6-string guitars, Guild is ready to bring out the jumbo 12-strings that guitarists have been shouting for since the company moved into its new factory in Oxnard, California, in 2015.
Introduced in 1968 as a special-order version of the 6-string F-50R, the Guild F-512 had varying appointments, including Brazilian rosewood backs and sides, before it became a regular model in 1974—and a go-to instrument for players such as Pete Townsend, Brian May, Tim Buckley, John Denver, and Dan Fogelberg.
Twelve-string guitars have always been niche instruments, but their popularity took off with players like Pete Seeger using them during the folk-music boom of the late 1950s and 1960s. The nearly orchestral flavor of a strummed or picked 12-string adds an extra dimension to an intimate sound. Guild’s bargain 12-string line consisted of the F-212 and F-312, but with the F-412 and F-512, they upped the ante with a more sophisticated sound, mother-of-pearl inlays, gold-plated tuners, and other nice touches, such as using real bone for the nut, saddle, and bridge pins.
This is the third guitar I have played from the Oxnard plant (the other two being the M-40 Troubadour and M-20, reviewed July 2017 and November 2016, respectively) and, as I’ve come to expect, the quality is top notch. From the choice of woods to the finer details of setup and fret dressing, I found everything to be in perfect order. I loved the choice of Indian rosewood for the back and sides, matched with Sitka spruce for the top, which made this jumbo-sized guitar sound sweet and warm.
The tight-grained Sitka spruce top is accented with an abalone rosette and black-and-white binding. The scalloped Adirondack braces are easily visible inside the soundhole. There is a bit of an odd visual juxtaposition between the chocolate-hued rosewood back and sides and the cherry-stained mahogany and walnut neck, but that is the way Guild has historically made these instruments. The gold-plated tuners and mother-of-pearl rectangular fret markers add a classy touch. It’s clear that the Guild designers have done everything they could to be historically accurate and faithful to the original design.
When I received the guitar, it was tuned down a whole step (D G C F A D). I wasn’t sure if the guitar had been shipped this way or if the last person who played it simply thought this was the best sound. After fiddling with a few tuning combinations, however, I felt the sweet spot was indeed one step lower than standard. [Editor’s note: It arrived in standard tuning and senior editor Greg Olwell tuned it down while trying to steal Blind Willie McTell licks.]
The F-512 came with light gauge (.010–.047) D’Addario EXP strings, which seemed the right choice given the tuning, and kept the guitar from playing too stiffly—especially for guitarists like me who aren’t accustomed to playing 12-strings. The strings had a great feel, while the sound was balanced and lush, with warm overtones.
I strummed a few open-position chords (G, C, D) and was greeted with a warm shimmering sound, like rain on a wood-shingled roof. I could do this all day, really! Then I tried some blues-inspired fingerpicking and found myself relishing the F-512’s fully orchestrated sound. As a standalone guitar, it has a great range of big bass and sparking highs. I would be interested to hear how it mixes with other stringed instruments, such as other guitars or bass, but just on its own, it sounds great.
IT’S A PLAYER
With its low action and aforementioned light-gauge strings, you won’t be fighting the F-512, which can be a concern when playing many 12-strings. Keep in mind that if a 12-string is your main instrument, and you’re playing all night, the extra neck girth might tire your fretting hand. I owned a 1980s F-212 for a while, and while it sounded great with heavier gauge strings, it was a bear to play with the style I was playing, so I sold it and kept my Taylor 355.
This F-512, however, is a different beast. The overall feel is comfortable. The 1-7/ 8-inch-wide nut is fairly standard for a six-string guitar, and the C-shaped neck is very easy to navigate. I played the guitar for several hours at a time and felt no hand fatigue.
I played some solo runs from first position to the 12th fret and found the neck easy to navigate. I caught the 12-string bug several years ago after listening to and trying to emulate early Leo Kottke tunes, so I would set up my guitar(s) with medium-heavy gauge strings, tune down, and play alternating bass–type songs. I didn’t use the 12-string to play leads and fills or accompany other instruments. But this guitar seems to have the best of both worlds: it’s a great chunky fingerpicker and it has a smooth glassy feel that will work well in many different musical settings. I’m not sure I could play an entire set with a 12-string, but I like to bring one out for a few songs, as it adds a new dimension to the overall sound. I think the crowd would really dig this big, beautiful Guild.
Many guitar manufacturers will use inexpensive plastic or synthetic materials for the nut, saddle, and bridge pin combinations—even on their more expensive models—but the F-512 sports real bone throughout. Whether these appointments add to the overall sound of the guitar is up for debate, but there is no denying that these are classy additions—and that this guitar sounds really good. The quality hardshell case is a nice touch, too. Guild also offers an optional L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup, which would make the F-512 gig ready.
One consideration players should take into account is that while the F-512 plays and sounds great, it is a big guitar. The lower bout measures 17-1/ 4 inches across and 4-3/ 4 inches deep, and with its 25-5/ 8-inch scale, the F-512 is one of the bigger non-baritone guitars on the market, so if you’re a smaller person, this jumbo might be a bit of a challenge to wrestle with. However, unlike some of its 1970s brethren, the new F-512 is not too heavy.
The new California-made Guild F-512 sits at the top of Guild’s line and its price places it alongside similar offerings from Taylor, Gibson, and Martin. Thanks to Guild’s attention to historical accuracy and ability to create a 12-string with a high level of playability, the F-512 should bring a grin to your face and hours of playing enjoyment. The sound is impeccable, and whether you are a strummer seeking silky smooth accompaniment or a fingerpicker aching to hear some warm, chugging, blues-inspired grooves, the F-512 is an excellent choice.
Body Jumbo body; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped Adirondack spruce braces; solid Indian rosewood back and sides with center purfling strip; ebony bridge with compensated bone saddle; bone bridge pins; plastic tortoiseshell pickguard; multilayer binding and purfling; gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
Neck 25-5/8″-scale three-piece mahogany-walnut-mahogany neck; bound 20-fret ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl and abalone block inlays; bone nut; ebony faceplate with MOP logo with binding; gold-plated Gotoh open-back tuners with butterbean knobs
Other Strap buttons; D’Addario EXP38 coated phosphor-bronze strings (.010–.047); hardshell case with built-in humidifier; L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup (optional, $300)
Price $3,699–$4,099 MAP
Made in USA
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.